Lives of the fellows

Philip Howell Rees

b.6 April 1935 d.22 March 2012
OBE(1983) BChir Cantab(1961) MB(1962) DCMT(1964) MRCP Edin(1964) FRCP(1980) FRCP Edin(1980) PhD Amsterdam(1983)

Philip Rees was a consultant physician in Kenya. He was born in London, the son of a psychiatrist, Thomas Percy Rees [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.334], who started out-patient services at Warlingham Park Hospital, enabling psychiatric patients to live in society. His mother was a housewife. He attended St Andrew’s School in Eastbourne and Harrow. For his National Service, he served in the Welsh Guards from 1953 to 1955 as an ensign/second lieutenant. He then studied medicine at Magdalene College, Cambridge, followed by clinical studies at Westminster Hospital Medical School.

After junior appointments at Westminster Hospital and St James’ Hospital, Balham, he attended the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and, in 1964, passed the diploma examination with distinction. In the same year he married Carol, an anaesthetist, whom he had known at Cambridge and who was his ultimate connection with Kenya: his father-in-law, Harold Storey, was a distinguished plant pathologist based in Nairobi.

During a stint as a lecturer in clinical tropical medicine at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, he joined the Royal Society-Royal Geographic expedition to the Mato Grosso led by a zoologist, Iain Bishop, under the auspices of the Central Brazilian Foundation, to study the small rodents that carry leishmaniasis. Unfortunately, the expedition made little progress because of a change in the government of Brazil.

He was subsequently seconded as a lecturer in medicine to the newly-established school of medicine at the University of Dar es Salaam. In 1969 he moved to the University of Nairobi Medical School as a senior lecturer based at the Kenyatta National Hospital. Kenyan medical students, having completed pre-clinical studies at Makerere University in Uganda, transferred to the University of Nairobi for training in clinical disciplines. During this period, many senior staff from the University of Glasgow Medical School were seconded to the University of Nairobi. By the 1970s the University of Nairobi had a thriving autonomous medical school, except that the salaries of full-time medical staff failed to keep up with the cost of living, which resulted in many clinical staff resorting to after-hours private practice.

He left the University of Nairobi in 1983 after 14 years of service and was appointed head of the clinical department of the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) in charge of flying doctors services and medical outreach programmes to neighbouring countries. AMREF took specialists from Nairobi and Dar es Salaam to remote rural hospitals. A certified pilot, he founded an intensive care air ambulance company, providing local and international air ambulance services for clients of leading insurance companies.

In developing the clinical services in AMREF he evinced financial support from the Netherlands Embassy for a 10-year period, enabling a Dutch surgeon colleague, Thomas Raassen, to serve in research projects, including a training programme in restorative surgery for fistula, a major complication of impacted labour, directed at maternity centres throughout the East African countries.

Philip Rees’ last post was as a full-time consultant physician at Nairobi Hospital.

During his career he published widely on subjects related to tropical medicine, extending from house dust asthma to mites and parasitology, malaria and nephrotic syndrome and kala-azar. In 2008 he wrote a report on HIV/AIDS, emphasising a decline in the incidence of the disease due to education and treatment of established cases (‘HIV/AIDS: the first 25 years – a view from Nairobi’ East Afr Med J 2008 Jun;85[6]:292-300). Between 1974 and 2010 he served on the editorial board of the East African Medical Journal.

In 1983 he was awarded an OBE for services to medical education. In the same year gained a PhD from the University of Amsterdam for his research on kala-azar.

He and his wife Carol set up a dairy farm in Karen, Kenya (named after the author Karen Blixen). They opted to breed jersey cattle, distributing world class genes to dairy farms and artificial insemination stations in the East African region.

Philip Rees died of cardiac failure, leaving his wife Carol and two daughters, Elizabeth and Samantha, and a granddaughter and grandson.

Krishna Somers

(Volume XII, page web)

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